HomearticleGender and Learning

This morning, I happened across this article about evidence that male and female brains of people with dyslexia function differently. To be honest, I tend to question the validity of gender based

By Helmut Januschka
(Helmut Januschka)
[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

studies, since they rarely include trans folks or those with lifelong hormonal problems.

It makes me wonder how hormonal treatment used to level out imbalances, transition an individual’s physical sex or in the form of birth control affects LD. I have the feeling that won’t be addressed until more is known about just how much difference there is in the function of hormonally unaltered people.

However, the line ‘”Because dyslexia is two to three times more prevalent in males compared with females, “females have been overlooked”‘ brings up the problem of gender bias in medicine and education.

Women and Medicine
Many years ago, doctors weren’t allowed to look at or touch the naked female body. To do so would be considered indecent by most of society, and I’m sure several doctors may have thought the act would be “dirty”.

Needless to say, countless women and girls ended up falling prey to preventable diseases and childbirth complications. Thankfully, the turmoil of the 1960’s helped advance women’s health immensely.

However, since most cases of dyslexia and other forms of LD are diagnosed in schools, the idea needs to be applied to kids. This is problematic, because their brains are still growing, and their hormonal levels are different than that of adults. Puberty in particular makes this sort of topic difficult because of the highly unstable levels of sex hormones.

This relates to the topic of LD because learning has its roots in how the brain functions through all fazes of life. This organ is still a huge mystery in many ways, but this lack of understanding about how the biologically female body functions can get in the way of fully understanding study results.

Gender Roles
The topic of girls in education has more of a base in culture and society. Girls have gotten far more
encouragement to seek education in some cultures than others, but the force of traditional gender roles is still very powerful.

Just take a walk through the toy isle at the store. Most of them are divided into three to four sections – baby, boys, girls and sometimes educational. Kids learn through play, and if you take a look at the toys offered, you can learn a lot about a culture.

I’m not a huge fan of cooking toys, but I must admit
this is a pretty cool piece.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In this one, the girls section is usually full of toys encouraging fashion, appearance and home care, while the boys are mostly superheros and sports. It boils down to ‘girls should be meek and boys should be aggressive’.

Some of the learning toys reinforce those ideals, too, through choice of color, design and characters.

Now, there’s more to it than just the toys a child plays with. Parents play a massive role in how their kids figure out how to look at themselves and the world around them. For simplicity’s sake, let’s stick with the kids who are encouraged at home to conform to those roles.

This relates to education, because those attitudes are deeply ingrained into kids whose parents don’t make an effort to help them question what the status quo is trying to sell a young age. These girls learn that speaking up is a bad thing, even if they’re struggling, because girls aren’t supposed to be loud or assertive.

When that decidedly shy attitude is combined an overburdened system, the thoughts and ideals that adults in charge carry, plus the often overwhelming concentration on competition with others, and we have kids who won’t get their needs addressed.

Overlooked Groups
In recent years, the LGBTQ community has become more vocal, which is an outstanding development. However, they’re rarely, if ever, included in studies like the one above. This group may be in the minority, but they could offer a deeper understanding of how LD effects all brains.

There have been studies, mentioned here and here, which indicate subtle differences in their brain structure in comparison to individuals who are comfortable with their body’s sex. How would dyslexia look in a trans individual’s brain, both pre- and post-hormonal therapy? How can this added diversity help our understanding of how everyone learns?

Putting it All Together
When you put biology, cultural pressures and gender identity together, you have an extremely complicated issue. What we all share in common is the need for basic education, and when something like dyslexia is added to the pot, that need is even more complex.

While simplifying diagnosis and accommodation as much as possible could be seen as a good thing, it could be just the opposite. Physical sex, gender and similar neurology aside, we are still all individuals, and we won’t all respond to treatments the same way.

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